Effective teaching of friendship and peer interaction skills is reliant on a solid a social language program that focuses on developing perspective taking skills, emotion awareness and management skills, and conversation skills. Friendships are formed through conversations, seeking things in common with peers (requires perspective taking), showing interest in peer’s experiences and thoughts, and creating shared experiences and memories with a peer. Further, a friendship will not progress if a child does not understand gradations of emotions and how to respond appropriately and manage their own emotions.

Teaching “friendship skills” is far more than teaching BEHAVIORAL interaction skills such as sharing, taking turns, showing good sportsmanship, asking peers to play appropriately, etc. While many approaches incorporate behavioral skills, a strict focus on this approach does not yield long term results. It is critical to also incorporate activities to build SOCIAL COGNITIVE skills, as well as the behavioral skills. Social cognitive skills teach the the student the underlying reason as to why social behaviors are important to other people. It provides a foundation for understanding that people are always thinking about other people when they interact. Michelle Garcia Winner, SLP, referenced many times throughout this site, is a pioneer in understanding and addressing Social Cognitive skills. The name of her flagship book encompasses the notion of Social Cognition. Thinking about You, Thinking about Me, describes the basis of social interaction and relationship building.

Social interaction is not a static or segmented process. Social interaction is a subtle, reciprocal dance where friends continually assess how one’s own behavior is being perceived by others and adjusting accordingly. There are countless “unwritten” rules, rapid perspective taking requirements, and a demand to continually “socially filter” how you communicate to various listeners. Learners on the autism spectrum often lack this intuitive social thinking process of aiming to please and attend to other people in their interactions. Rather, conversations and relationships can appear one-sided or superficial in nature. Children with ASD miss the subtle nuances of non-verbal communication. They are unaware of unwritten social rules. Lastly, children with ASD can be hyper-focused on their own intense interests and have difficulty dampening or managing their own emotions when facing the unpredictability of the social world. It is for these reasons that an approach to increasing social competence should incorporate all aspects of Pragmatics: perspective taking, emotion/non-verbal communication awareness and expression, conversation skills with a social cognitive slant on analyzing skills, as well as teaching behavioral friendship skills.

The Teaching Ideas section under this Friendship and Interaction skills page contains ideas for you to explore and PDF documents you can download and use. Check back often to find new ideas!

© Jill D. Kuzma, Minneapolis MN, 2008. All Rights Reserved.
Neither this document nor its concept may be duplicated, distributed, or re-published in any format without written permission from the author/owner.